Forget the Batmobile, there’s a new heroic vehicle driving around — and it’s here to save the animals.
With a caravan full of medical supplies and an operating table, veterinarian Kim Hunter owns her own ‘vetmobile’ to provide pet care primarily to remote First Nations communities throughout the Northwest region.
This month, she visited the Nass Valley to spay over 40 feral cats as part of the SPCA BC’s initiative to keep population numbers low. Hunter has been working through her Pet to Vet Mobile Service, travelling to help low-income households with their pets.
“I know there are people who live pretty rough and when we go up there, I don’t know how to help them but I know it’s important to build a bridge,” says Hunter. “It’s amazing having something in common like [interacting over] someone’s pet and then all of a sudden, you can communicate.”
She says that oftentimes during her visits, kids will come around and want to know more about her work. By trying to teach them how to brush their pets and care for them, she says she hopes to eventually implement an education program into the schools.
“They do want to look after their own pets but for a lot of them, they just don’t have the money.”
When it comes to spaying or neutering operations for pets, it can be expensive. Costs can range between $150 to $400, as Hunter has to purchase medicine from out of town and pay her staff. She also runs a clinic in Smithers, where there’s still overhead costs that need to be paid when she’s away.
Sometimes, she says in order to operate on as many animals as possible during her visits, there isn’t enough money left over for a cut for herself.”
“These are interesting challenges, I really like the work but the trouble is finding the money,” says Hunter. “Fundraising is tough as there are so many things that need funding.”
Last year, Hunter partnered with Paws for Hope, an organization that stands for sustainable animal welfare and protection, which has helped her with the funds to carry out her vet services.
Kathy Powelson, executive director and founder of Paws for Hope, says that the work Hunter does is invaluable. She says she believes Hunter is the only vet in B.C. that operates directly out of a trailer.
“Her ability to move around is huge and the north is so massive, it’d be ideal if there was more than just one [vet doing this],” says Powelson. “She’s been really committed to working with the communities, providing veterinary care is important for the animals and to stop unwanted litters.”
Although over $20,000 has been given, with some SPCA grants included, there still isn’t enough money to help everyone. She offers subsidized pricing, but even that can be too much for low-income families.
“It’s getting really difficult because I can’t make people understand why I can’t help their dogs,” says Hunter.
Hunter says that there have been incidents where unneutered dogs would show aggression and end up biting people. In fear of letting them loose, many owners tie their dogs to the porch.
Unfortunately, some end up freezing to death in the winters.
And in some extreme cases, residents have to take desperate measures to protect themselves from threatening canines. With no euthanization available, their hunting rifles are the only solution.
“Some villages have a hit list, so any dog that isn’t fixed, everyone knows it… If they get out of the yard and aren’t fixed — they get shot.”
For Hunter, she says she’s never had any background working with First Nations but is learning a lot from her visits. Residents will come out to help gather animals and a local nurse or RCMP constable will then often assist with bringing furry patients home after their surgeries. There were even two villages that fundraised between $5,000 to $10,000 on their own to help ease the veterinary costs in their communities.
“It’s gratifying to be so welcomed with open arms, they feed us and they’re just so happy to have their pets looked after.”